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& Dal Niente: Balter/Saunier (New Amsterdam)

remember sharing Deerhoof’s Friend Opportunity in 2006 with
Marcos Balter, a friend of mine in Chicago, who immediately fell in love with it; I was also pleasantly surprised by the angular, jaunty tunes of that same album
after having explored earlier albums
like Reveille, wherein they sounded more like a curious ADHD experiment than
an accomplished performance outfit (though in hindsight, perhaps both). Friend Opportunity changed my perception of Deerhoof as far more a force to be reckoned with, tightening and honing their sound while firmly proclaiming their technical prowess. Imagine my delight then, over 10 years later, to hear Marcos’s compositions performed by Deerhoof
and contemporary performance ensemble Dal Niente. It’s a
collaboration that is curious on so many levels: it bridges the often perceived wide chasm between contemporary ensemble music and experimental rock;
it marries the microtonality of Balter’s compositions with the often
textural and non-melodic sound-making of Deerhoof’s most difficult
material; it pairs Balter, a contemporary composer who draws outside the
lines, with Greg Saunier, a drummer whose musical ambition
and enthusiasm is easily as big as a veteran like Stuart Copeland
(and arguably to far more interesting ends musically). Much has been
made of rock’s crossover successes into more score and
composition-oriented ensemble music, Jonny Greenwood’s scores in
particular. But there is something more wholly complementary about
the creative forces involved with this project.

Balter / Saunier by Dal Niente & Deerhoof

Balter’s “Meltdown
Upshot” in seven parts comprises the majority of the recording, and
the performances from Deerhoof and Dal Niente bring the
music to life such that it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
Deerhoof vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki blends seamlessly with vocalists
from the 22-piece ensemble, and Saunier’s deft drumming feels like
the perfect backbone to Dal Niente’s spry musical
maneuvering through Balter’s compositions. The echoing staccato
patterns of “No. 4, True/False” feel like a natural fit for the
ensemble and Deerhoof’s own sensibilities, sort of a rapid-fire call
and response, while “No. 6, Cherubim” is driven far more overtly
by Saunier’s drumming and its 5/4 time signature, sounding more
plausibly like a Deerhoof session. The push and pull between
the various performers and Balter’s writing is what makes the entire
recording so successful, as if there was no ego in the equation
whatsoever. Instead it feels like a real marriage of sensibilities
and enthusiasm for performance, whether across “Meltdown Upshot” or
Balter’s other brief microtonal piece in Portuguese, “Pois que nada
que dure, ou que durando” (“Since nothing that lasts or that,
lasting…”). The final piece on the album turns the tables, featuring
Deerhoof pieces interpreted in exciting and often beguiling new ways
for twenty minutes. In its sprawl, it is less a series of
reinterpretations and more so a new spin on the entirety of
Deerhoof’s vast œuvre, eschewing any of the band’s own playing while
Dal Niente bring Saunier’s new arrangements to life. It’s a
compelling take on the band’s music, yet again emphasizing that the divide
between so-called academic performance and indie rock is not so
pronounced after all. The whole thing is immensely satisfying, though
Balter’s compositions shine brightest by virtue of the chemistry shared with his collaborators.
Highly, highly recommended.

Buy it: Bandcamp